It is wild. It has all been wild. The weather is tempestuous and volatile, changing quickly from a sunny bright blue day to brooding glowering storms and to dense heavy grey fog that submerge the land into nothing, all in one day and all within hours. The ground is sodden and covered in bright orange bracken or bold bright green grass, soft and lush for the sheep with their coats of several painted colours. There are many sheep in these craggy hilltops. They merge with the rocks, once the colour of liver, now white with old lichen. Collected over the centuries, the never ending supply of rocks have partly become a lacework of walls flowing organically over the hillsides and down onto the cliff edges of the sea, containing a vivid patchwork of green and orange lit by turbulent skies.
It has been amazing here. I think you need the full month to get the full benefit from this experience. We could have left many times earlier. We got ‘over’ it, thought we had already ‘got’ it, but here we were, everyday clambering the same hills, thinking we had already ‘done’ this, and yet another revelation would come, another strange connectness to nature and the ancient past and an opening of the creative spirit to discover new doorways for our art. It is at first hard to appreciate the lack of distractions as at first you actually miss them. Long nights reading or writing or playing a game or talking when normally you might watch a movie or work on the internet or socialize. The change of habits has been great for our art as we only seem to talk about our art or this strange land we are immersed in. Hours are spent investigating, imagining ancient peoples, reinventing how they saw the world and in those imaginings, days have disappeared without once thinking about our normal living.
Noelle Campbell-Sharpe is a larger than life character who, famous in Ireland for her entrepreneurship and her wildish ways, has devoted the last twenty years to saving this small patch of coastline for artists to come and retreat from life. In amongst the ruins of cottages over the centuries are the ruins of the monks who came here after they left the skelligs around 1000 AD, their bones buried in the much older megalithic round houses or forts. Noelle has bought all the ruined cottages in the more recent pre-famine Cill Rialaig village and is in the process of transforming them into accommodation for artists creating a trust and protecting the area from the ruinous stamp of tourism and growth.
We read some great books while we were here, The Chalice and the Blade, written by Riane Eisler and The Megalithic Empire, co written by M. J. Harper and H.L. Vered. They were so appropriate for this part of remote farmland almost untouched by modern civilization at lands edge. The scars and marks of megalithic society are still here, and one senses the great mother of the neolithic societies still in the round forts and farmers homes, the little dome houses surrounded by their round protective walls and the sweeping curves of the entrances, even the ancient stone fences add another ring to the spiral, womblike. We found standing stones at the entrance to the ancient village above us on the hill, all the homes round, rings of foundation stones everywhere. We read that the neolithic society who lived here were traders so it made sense that there were ley lines reaching from these villages on the sea, from the Skelligs Michael, small islands near us where monks retreated in 500 AD., to Mount Carmel near Jerusalem passing through Mont Saint Michel in France and Monte Gargano in southern Italy (from where the knights Templar departed for the holy land). The ancients mined copper and gold and maybe even trained and traded crows! Crows are said to have been trained to fly in a straight line and for this they were used on the pre christian celtic trading ships, kept in the ‘crows nest’ . The crows were set free when the sailors thought they were near land, noting the direction the birds flew in, and if they returned, there was no land…
I’m afraid this time around our art was not influenced by sheep or crows, worthy though they are. But perhaps because we were so engaged in the neolithic world we saw ourselves in, our art had to capture some of the philosophy of those people. As we walked in this landscape on the edge of the great sea, the elements of wind and rain and sun our constant companions, we began to feel the oneness of it all. We did not feel more or less than nature, just part of it. There was a great feeling of impartiality, that nothing was greater than life itself. There was a great sense of reverence for life and the dearest wish to protect the earth and preserve it from greed and senseless consumerism. The wish to make life grow, in the same way of those neolithic people with their wisdom of the earth, their home.
We arrived on the weekend of the great storm. When we woke in the morning we could barely restrain the door of the house as it leapt out of our hands. The waves on the cliffs below were spiraling high into the sky, the wind skimming the tops of the waves, gathering its plunder into walls and towers before it was thrown back down into the sea in wild abandon. We danced with excitement on the top of the cliffs outside the little cottages of Cill Rialaig and with adrenalin high in the racing wind, we took off up the narrow road towards Bolus Head, the rain and wind simultaneously wetting and drying us as we bowed beneath it. Then the unimaginable happened, just as we began talking to another walker, the wind suddenly scooped low and hard and lifted us off our feet, airborne, and threw us with unyielding force back onto the road, pushing us on uncontrolled feet and clutching useless hands, into the rock walls whereupon the other walker and I fell on top of each other into a ditch, soft with muck and tussocks of grass. Mike at the last moment managed to catch hold of the wire fence where he clung for dear life till the wind’s attention went else where…. Nature. My feeling of great connection and exuberance simmered into brooding caution and fearful respect and I tottered home suspicious of every gust, stiff and sore.
We are in Cill Rialaig, artists in residence in one of the seven available pre-famine cottages for artists on the cliffs of the Atlantic and off the ring of Kerry on the Iveragh Peninsula. So wild and so beautiful. We have been here before, 15 years ago. We came with Sollai while Jake was at his school for gifted young musicians in America. We thought a sojourn here would be closer to Jake if he needed us and in the meantime we would create and be inspired in this amazing environment. We loved the residency so much, we rented a house for four extra months in the same area after the residency finished and developed a great series of our work, Mike on the Vikings and me on the Skellig Monks.
It’s a tough time of year to be here, but we were here fifteen years ago during the same period and we have been waxing lyrical for the past fifteen years on the extraordinary light during the winter period and we wanted to experience it again. How lucky are we! Here in this magical light, the air so clean and up here on the cliffs, the weather patterns before us are constantly changing, emptying out and refilling with light and grey and black and aqua and gold and pink, tipping the crests of the water with silver and creaming up the sky under blue black clouds, piercing rays of the whitest light searing the water and touching sodden cliff horizons with a golden edge.
We walk for a few hours every day, drawing and painting as we go, up into the hills through prickly wet paddocks, clambering over fences and rocks. We have found two of the most amazing ring forts, and have wandered over them, mapping their abodes and tunnels and entrances and burial places. One of the ring forts, for sure, is an ecclesiastical abode with the enclosed burial ground outside the main circular building, a standing stone bearing the insignia of Christianity. The other one, in the hills above our little village, looks like a farmer’s home and it is in sight of the other ecclesiastical fort. It has what looks like a chase that runs alongside the home paddock and up over the hill top where four standing stones, sentinels of varying height, seem significantly inline with the islands of the two kings in the sea.
One day, on one of our walks, sheep were grazing on the succulent grass on the edge of the road, scattering as we came near, except for one, solid and muscular this sheep was a ram and he glanced balefully at us, his body rigid, his lip curling and ripples of flesh creasing up over his nose. I could feel that age old sensation of danger up and down my spine, but he let us pass and I knew once again how out of touch I was with earth. Sometimes we are so civilized, we become too safe and sanitized, our instincts become neutralized and our language of our experiences is about how beautiful it all is without any real respect for the deep primal wildness in its essence. I feel the touch of the wild here. I am not comfortable at all. But I feel deeply, passionately alive. It is great for my art. My work is in an uncomfortable state of transition. Is it good? Will it be good? Maybe not, but it doesn’t matter. I am creating and it is all fodder for the best work to come.
I must write about this magical month in October before I forget. Our life goes so fast sometimes, I forget to take note of the extraordinary experiences we have and that are wonderful to share.
We just spent 4 weeks in the old medieval town of Pietrasanta where we carved in studio Shakti in the industrial marshland, walking into town each morning for our coffee and brioche, the pedestrian streets echoing in the early morning as we briskly made our way to the great piazza, home to Michaelangelo for a few years as he wandered the mountains searching for beautiful stone. He found the most beautiful statuario in Mont’ Altissimo, in the mountains above Pietrasanta, and opened a quarry there. It is truly amazing to be in the history of this original Roman town, that for centuries has had artists coming to make their sculptures in the many dusty studios, working with the artigiani; experienced craftsmen who could point up the model from an artist better than the artist, and execute the idea with truth to the artist, the great artists’ friend.
We lived at the studio in a small apartment, all day and all night the noise of machines in the surrounding studios and factories, churning and cutting the marble for facades of buildings, copies of old sculptures, kitchen benches and tiles, facades of pillars; the great inners discarded after the veneer was peeled off, a tragic loss of mountains slowly disappearing into the terrible maw of consumerism, temporary but forever gone.
The Shakti studio is very basic, but lovely with its great old Mediterranean pines towering over the makeshift sheds, catering for artists working here short term and mostly working with smallish pieces. You bring your own tools and you can work with the supplied air or by hand. There is no lifting apparatus, though the guys in the studio next door will come in and move your piece if it is too heavy with their little crane truck. You can buy your marble from these guys too. There are also artigiani wandering in and out, willing to work for the artists if they need their stone cut out in readiness for the finer work. One lady we met was so delighted with what the artigiani could do, she employed one of them full time, and simply told him what she wanted, asking him to be more graceful here, and more elegant there, I think she was innocent of her appropriation, but she annoyed a few of the artists for her shamelessness… In the studio next door an exquisite sculpture of two figures, one carried by the other, and destined for a British museum, had taken six months for the artigiani to point up from the artist’s model. We were there in its final days of finishing, and, the artist not in sight, but his orders were explicit, for the sculpture to be highly polished, lucido. Before the polishing, but finished if you chose, the light had entered the sculpture so that it was luminous and unbearably sensuous. Days later we went back, devastated to see the sculpture in its finished state, polished and plastic, the delicacy of form gone into slick hardness that could have been a white gloss resin.
I don’t think I have ever worked so hard in my life. From 8.30 in the morning till lunchtime, and an hour or two’s break and then till 6.30 at night. All day. I fell into bed each night and became entirely useless, I couldn’t clean or make a meal. We had our lunch at the Croce Verde in Pietrasanta and thank goodness for that because we ate really well, and then basically nothing of an evening, too tired to muster energy other than for a pecorino cheese sandwich which we thought was manna from heaven sloshed down with local red wine. I loved it. I loved finding my stone. It was the first time I had ever carved marble and I loved the process. My first piece I worked with from a model that I had originally cast in bronze. It equally suited marble. Finding the stone became the first step in the seduction process and then haggling for the price, knowing you’ll pay too much because you want it so much. Michael was my teacher, he knows me so well, he wasn’t in there at every moment, allowing me to find my way, but there to let me know when to change tools, helping me with the cutting, teaching me to listen to the stone, pulling me past frustration. It was wonderful. The process was wonderful, because bit by bit, as you got beyond the raw stone and refined its surface, you took the piece to be your own, you gave it its life, you allowed its inner light to shine. And shine it does. The light of the stone is so beautiful and I am sure the in-loveness you feel imparts something else that is symbiotic with life. It was also wonderful to continue the process till the end under your own hand. It makes you consider the surface more because it is not lost through another process.
It was four beautiful weeks together, devoted solely to our art. Our conversation was about art and our development and growth in our work. We forgot the outer world of busyness, totally immersed in the passion of seeing things differently. It was the great retreat into ourselves and Mike emerged with beautiful bird forms that had become the mother over her nest which was the universe or the cosmos, her great form shadowing the egg like planets immersed in the ether. My work in marble is spinning off the cycladic influences of neolithic art, loving the mother, loving the duality of male and female, finding a way back to a place in ourselves that honoured life and the earth.
The streets of Ponte a Serraglio, all summer long, have been filled with the sound of music, of people wandering hand in hand through the old shops filled with art, hosted by wonderful characters, artists of delightful eccentricity. Performances of music, of theatre, of sculpture installations on the river, of acrobats and dancers, of singing, of instrumentation, of bands of astounding quality enticing us to dance to their beat….
It has been an amazing work of art for all this to happen. It has been in the hands of a few people incredibly loyal to the vision, and the credit goes to Jaqui Varela and Jacob Cartwright for keeping the vision and inspiring their little group of tireless workers. Jacob and Jaqui have devoted themselves without pay and almost every minute of their spare time to organizing the shops and events and procuring interminable permissions from the Belle Arti and the commune. Even so, they and all the festival workers have also been thoroughly appreciated by us all. This first year of the Bagni di Lucca Festival has already been a resounding success. The goal to bring life back to this sleeping gracious old town has begun.
One of the many highlights of the festival has been Neco Novellas in the old casino and also in ‘La Cantina’. African, from Mozambique, Neco lives now in Amsterdam. As well as his training from his own culture he has been classically trained in voice in Europe. He is such a honed self disciplined man, all this showing in his professionalism that in a different field of music and without all that consummate experience, was yet, worthy company to the piano performance the night before by Ronald Farren-Price. This was one of those amazing times when voice is truly an instrument, it was its own percussion resounding from his chest and cheeks, his tongue clicking and clocking, his voice golden and rich, the words hardly important to the largeness of his sound that completely filled you. One of the nights after the concert in the casino, he had a wonderful public jam with Jacob. Although Jake would call himself a composer number one, he is actually a beautiful improvisor on the clarinet. He has been playing since he was nine and was considered so gifted he was ensconced in the Victorian College of the Arts secondary school in Australia for Music from the age of eleven. He was in joy playing with Neco. It was a wonderful couple of nights.
Another worthy mention, even though there are many, was the sculpture installation, ‘Fragile Community’, by Sandro di Pistoia on the river under the bridge in Ponte a Serraglio. It happened without fanfare and took people by surprise. It evolved with planks of wood and big rubber bands, floating in the water joined at their ends into hexagonal cells. It was the subject of endless photographs, reflections of the buildings and bridge up above captured in its many frames. People sat in Vinicio’s outdoor restaurant along the riverside peering down on it. It also captured the rubbish, occasionally revealing the practices of people upstream chucking in their plastic bags of debris, also scum from ancient sewerage systems or from factories along the river, and sometimes a carcass would float down, bloated and distorted to wait patiently there under the bridge held at bay by the planks of wood until it was released to go by. Hmmm yes, a fragile community revealed.
A couple of weeks ago the Festival put on a performance by Triad in the Villa Fiori Gardens. It was a wonderful night. I think we danced till we dropped. The music was essentially tribal, the overriding sound coming from the didgeridoo and drums with some electronica thrown in. Loved it. Loved the deep repetitive beat and that deep sound of the land in the didgeridoo, stamp stamping in the dust, arms chugging, everyone in there, young and old, the music too universal to be held by one.
Then, the other night we had Koski. Wow. It blew us away, Henna Kaikula, Guy Dowsett, Jacob Cartwright and Julian Renlong Wong. It was contemporary dance, music, theatre. To me, it was a dreamy description of the soul’s journey, symbolic snippets choreographed into the chain of water sound and drum beat. It was the rhythm of life, necessary for survival, it was birth, it was nurturing and whimsy, it was greed, it was a childlike yearning for something beyond reach and it was the dance of life’s exhaustion, the relentless hammering of time against a mere body. Koski was workshopped in La Cantina, a large space, that the four artists used for a month, Jacob and Guy working through the nights to create the music and sound scape, Henna the contortionist using her body in effortless and graceful abandon, Julian, controlled and exquisite, a dancer, combining to create in the space with its rocks and stones and river noise and high windows, theatre so riveting, I didn’t move a muscle from beginning to end. I felt reverent and I know others did too. There was very little space for an audience, the cantina only holding enough small chairs for 27 people, surrounded by the set of the performance. And there were only three nights of performance, so we felt lucky to have seen it!
Finally, although there are still exhibitions happening in the shops it feels like the end of the festival was marked by the theatrical performance on 6th September, Comedia Toto, directed by Ira Seidenstein in Bagni di Lucca’s old theatre. Before this inaugural night he workshopped the performance for two weeks in Ponte a Serraglio in the the old Cinema House with a talented group of young performers, acrobats, clowns, comedians. Each actor took on the personage of major comedians or comedy roles like Toto and Pierrot and created small acts held together by the main female character whose larger than life ego reluctantly introduced them and shooed them away as quickly as possible. The little snippets were delightful but by the end we were really laughing with their almost slapstick antics. It was lovely to have the grand old theatre to use. It is one of the oldest theatre houses in Italy. It was badly refurbished in 1987, (oh the 80’s) because its roof was leaking and for the first time it was ‘modernized’, sadly, but it is still a wonderful venue.
Now it is autumn and the rains have begun, cooling down the earth, and even when the sun is shining and it almost feels like summer, the shadows are cooler now. It has been a summer to remember in this little town nestling on the river’s edge. We are deeply grateful to all the artists who participated and made such wonderful cultural and artistic contributions to the festival. We believe there were over 60 participating artists although some names have been lost within their group name. They are as follows:
DOUGLA ROBINSON Canada
MICHAEL CARTWRIGHT Australia
PETRA BOSHART Holland
RYOICHI SUZUKI USA/Japan
SARAH DANAYS UK
Artist in Galleries
TONY SCOTT Australia
WAYNE WARREN UK
LAI CHUN LING HK China
MICHAEL HENNING Germany
SELBY HICKE New York
DAVID FINKBEINER New York
GIUSEPPE DEL DEBBIO Lucca
GIANMARCO CASELLI Lucca
JACOPO DA SAN MARTINO Lucca
CHRISTIAN GIRONDA Italy
BANG ON! GROUP Tuscany
MELISSA MOORE England
SANDRA MONTAGNA Pietrasanta
DORA BENDIXEN Norway
DARIO TORRE – BANG ON! GROUP Tuscany
LINDA SCHRANK New York
SHONA NUNAN Australia
MARCANTONIO LUNARDI Lucca
ELISABETTA DI SOPRA Venice
3D NEIGHBOURS Barcelona
SARAH DANAYS UK
SANDRO DEL PISTOIA Pietrasanta
FILIPPO GEMIGNANI Italy
GIONI DAVID PARRA Tuscany
CAROL NEWMARCH UK
MICHAEL CARTWRIGHT Australia
BANG ON! GROUP Tuscany
PAULYR BUHLER Switzerland
MAUREEN HALSON England
DOUGLAS ROBINSON Canada
BANG ON! GROUP Tuscany
RICHARD MOQUIN United States
BEATRICE SPERANZA Italy
EMY PETRINI Italy
GIACOMO VERDE Tuscany
MAX CAFFELL England
ANTONIETTA CAPECCHI Italy
GIULIA GERACE Italy
KEVAN HALSON England
JACOB CARTWRIGHT Australia
RONALD FARREN-PRICE Australia
NECO NOVELLAS Mozambique
Filarmonica Municipale La Crisi
“LABIRINTO SONORO” Italy
KOSKI Henna Kaikula – Finland, Julian Renlong Wong – Australia, Jacob Cartwright – Australia, Guy Dowsett – Australia
TRIAD VIBRATIONS Italy
COMMEDIA TOTO – Ira Seiderstein – Australia/America, Casper Schjelbred – Denmark, Kevin Gorczynsko – Holland, Anne Chaponnay – France, Olivier Pasquier – France, Elena Michielin – Italy, Danica Hilton – Australia, Marion lallour – France.
After twelve years, Michael is again carving marble. We had a car accident twelve years ago and Mike’s right foot was badly injured, forcing him to stop carving stone. He painted instead and this was not a bad thing because he has developed his wonderful sense of colour in a way that he may never have had the opportunity to as he was so known for his sculpture. This last year has seen him in Pietrasanta working again in marble carving studios. His foot is now able to withstand a bit of the weight bearing needed with working on stone. I can see it is a joy for him to be back with tools in his hands, tapping that luminous stone and bringing it to life.
Mike’s exhibition in La Rondine Gallery is without paintings this time. Three lush white marble sculptures in vivid contrast to one glowing golden bronze in the vaulted gallery space, five drawings pinned to the wall, another delicate two framed. The exhibition has a purity to it, in its shadowy grey and white. The forms are simple, barely textured, sensuous, the shadows soft and seductive.
One of the forms is a magnificent abstracted bird, proud and preening, flourishing its feathers. The marble is in white Carrara and it’s soft glowing creaminess is intensified by the the contrasting roughness of the divits in its feathering. It has a subtle movement that needs it to be placed somewhere centrally so that it can be fully appreciated.
The other bird form is quirky and always makes me smile. It is totally hand carved – that is, without machinery at all – so there is a liveliness in the texture and the flow of the lines, a sensitivity to the quirky lumpiness of the back of the bird, a contrast to the strange nest in the tree the bird is protecting. Tough and tender.
Then there is the kneeling woman form, or is it a pregnant woman form, she seems to be a homage to abundance and fertility. She is related to the ‘One who loves itself’, an animal form Mike created a few years ago with all the feelings of self love and delight in the most beautiful way. This is the bronze piece, luscious in its golden reflective high polish.
This exhibition, to me, seems to be an expression of love and freedom. There is such tenderness in the ‘Bird and Nest in the Tree’ and so much sense of freedom, especially in that big bird with his wings outstretched, ready to fly.
Rover Thomas in the desert making art that is of the earth, simple, iconic masterpieces, representing deeply the land he was, he not separate, but a part of a whole intimately felt universe. Traveling overhead in planes, peering from tiny windows many times over the years, looking down into the land of Australia, seeing the red earth in a different way, became the first step for me to see life differently. To stop trying to see the earth with only one sense, the eyes, in a two dimensional pictorial way.
Lying on thick dewy grass in the night, looking up into the velvety blackness, light twinkling from distant planets and stars, but part of it, in it, not separate and observing, but deeply within the great night sky, deeply held by the deep dark earth. How to express this inner knowledge of life. Maybe the ancients have always expressed this and it is we who are now the primitive ones. Modernization and technology seem to have ultimately divided us from each other, our voracious consumerism has meant we are neglecting the earth, and our knowledge comes from others, not ourselves who have separated our senses from their essential connectivity. We are often alone with only the companions of things that have no life.
For months I have been in my studio drawing, trying to feel the earth, be the earth. I have scoured books of ancient art including the art of our Australian aboriginals, sinking into their work, meditating on it, trying to redraw in my own way their sense of the world, because instinctively I know they are deeply connected to all of life and I, too, want to belong.
My sculptures have been going this way for years, looking for the elemental, the spiritual essence of the human being. My drawings have lagged behind, perhaps out of habit in the way I see two dimensionally, I have seen only pictorially with that one visual sense and not all. My challenge was to ‘become’ everything I was trying to express. Recently, I put big slabs of paper on the floor and crawled all over them, black everywhere, a mess, losing perspective. Out of it came the message of Rover Thomas. I have been shamelessly influenced by him and so grateful. I have fallen in love with the rich earth colours that are here just the same in Italy. I feel the earth colour in my whole being, I can smell in its dark smoky browns its woodiness, its mustiness, in the reds I feel the abundant bloody fertility, in the ochres I feel the sun and warmth and light. I have let my figures fall on the paper, anywhere. The spaces between them as vibrant as their own energy that is part of the sky and part of the earth.
Some of these drawings and sculptures were in an exhibition recently at La Rondine Gallery along with the photos and sculptures of Sarah Danays.
The Bagni di Lucca Art Festival has brought into our wee beautiful town some of the most amazing international talent that it has seen for many years. Bagni di Lucca is known for its many famous personages. It is known for all the incredible writers and musicians and visual artists that have come here through history, seduced by its unspoilt beauty, resting and walking in the deep greens and aquas of the verdant mountains rolling over each other, mystical visions of villages perching on the hilly spines, torrents racing coldly through ravines and crevices emerging into still ponds where children play, leaping onwards and down into the river Lima, through the great devil’s bridge of Ponte di Maddalena and into the Serchio before reaching Lucca.
The Bagni di Lucca Art Festival has brought together today’s wonderful artists. A couple of weeks ago we had two concerts in consecutive nights in the old casino in Ponte a Serraglio. Both concerts blew us away. The first concert was by Ronald Farren-Price playing piano.
Ronald Farren-Price, a virtuoso and one of Australia’s foremost concert pianists, now retired from concert life at eighty something, is an inspiration of daunting precocity. An artist of meticulous self discipline, he has practiced every day for 78 years and sometimes on programs he will never play professionally.
“When students ask me why I’m working on a big program that I may never even perform, I say that I am working on it for the next world, and that nothing in life is lost. Eventually everything has a meaning.”
He himself believes in the interpretation of the music rather than the technical brilliance of the performance. He believes in memorising his pieces in preparation before a performance for the inner ear and the mind so that that the only thing he has to do when performing is to interpret the knowledge.
“I always tell my students to strive for something that is beautiful rather than something only brilliant. Brilliance alone can lead to something blatant in no time if one is not careful.”
His body, bent permanently in its accustomed posture at the piano, reminded me of what it was to be a great artist, a vocation of intense pursuit, undistracted by the frills of life and desires for luxury, just the wish for all needs met. This night he arrived in the old casino where Liszt played over a hundred years ago at its opening ceremonies, the beautiful old chandeliers glistening in the gilt age marked mirrors, the piano raised on a stage, the chairs fanning out around it, people eager in their seats. Gentle gentle his hands barely lifted off the keys as he opened his performance with Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. So tender his face, his eyes softly closed like a child’s, as though he was just feeling the music as it left the tips of his fingers, so exquisitely almost silent those opening notes that broke away the day and placed our minds in open readiness. It was a truly amazing performance. It was the performance of a master. It was an hour and a half of music laced with passion and tenderness, a meditation so perfectly controlled, yet so ‘felt’, so perfectly in harmony with the essence of every note. I rave, but I loved it. So did we all. We clapped so hard we ached.
I am inspired for my own life as an artist. Ronald Farren-Price gave us everything that night. I am inspired by a man who, though frail and vulnerable in his advancing age, has not allowed frailty and a hurting body to interfere with his spiritual connection to his creativity. His will to control the extremities of body to allow himself to ‘speak’ was really something to be seen and heard.
He was always revered, being one of those children with incredible talent that eventually took his studies to London and New York, feted and lauded wherever he went and here today. Most of his professional life has been cocooned in the Music Faculty of the University of Melbourne with concert forays each year into some of the most amazing concert halls of the world. How incredibly lucky were we to have seen this, his last public performance. He promises to return next year with a master class of gifted students who in turn will take the stage to create another night for the soul to remember.
I am lying on the sand in a little cove just below Livorno. The water is gently lapping nearby and a child plucks delightedly at each gush of wave. The sun is warm and low in the sky and the big gulls swoop and swarm over a dark patch in the water. I feel deeply deeply at rest and feel each breath, full, filling me completely. Next to me, Mike is asleep. We are here to only be here, nowhere else, and it feels lovely to think of nothing but food and wine and beauty.
south of Livorno – Leghorn – Castiglioncello
We have been so busy, the summer has flown away, its golden days filled with happy hours in the studio, working in the new gallery, La Rondine, catching up with friends and family from overseas, cleaning up our properties for sale, setting up exhibitions….. And then as one more set of friends arrived, and an appointment where we had to meet some clients in Basel was cancelled, we realized it was time for nothing. I had just opened up my exhibition, ‘From Out of the Studio’, and off we went down to Castiglioncello, south of Livorno, to capture the last of the summer. Such a beautiful place, all those big old umbrella pines set in the narrow picturesque streets and gardens of gracious old holiday homes. We are staying in a whacky hotel, Villa Parisi, that apparently we are getting for a very cheap price because there are no tourists around, but there is no internet or very limited service, and it all feels a little bit like Fawlty Towers. Nevertheless, the bathroom is large and spacious and the views overlooking a moody sea are gorgeous.
It was great doing my exhibition. I had finished modelling the ‘Guardian Figures’ for the Warnambool Art Museum in June and so it was wonderful to somehow be in my studio nearly every day over a very busy summer progressing with my work because I was working towards my own show. It was also great because my studio is so close to the gallery, I could take the plaster originals down to the gallery instead of having to have them all cast in bronze. It gave a real element of freshness to the show and I have to admit that sometimes the plaster originals have something really special in them in their all white, pure, raw surfaces. They feel tougher, scratchier than their eventual softening into the bronze. By the skin of my teeth I just finished my horse and rider. Maybe there is a little more to do on the head of the rider, I’d like more time with it, and in some ways I am sad that it is over with this piece. I love the process and in this piece it could go on forever, around and around tweaking and adjusting, it is a real love relationship and the in-loveness makes you never want to leave it. I love the horse, its head pulled in tight to its chest, its complete trust in the rider, unable to see, uncomfortable in its fidgeting stance. The rider, semi relaxed but aware, gazing outward, one of his feet holding tightly to the chest of the horse, in control, but with time to see the whole surrounding picture…. I also framed some drawings that I did years ago, in 1997-1998, when we rented a cottage in Ballinskelligs, Ireland, after we had done an art residency at Cill Rialiag there. This is a series I call my Monk series based on the skellig monks who lived out in beehive huts on a rock in the sea in the early days of christianity, they were refugees from the African desert and guarded the priceless texts that were at that period of time being burnt and savaged by the northern tribes and newly formed apostolic church. I did a series of portraits of the monks using the quiet contemplative faces of the young and older single men we came across in the area. We would often see them alone on their farms, without women, solitary figures in a harsh lonely land that dropped into the sea. Their serene stoic faces seemed right for my picture of the monks.
The opening night of the exhibition and the following night was wonderful, along with our friends and supporters of art came Italians we hadn’t seen before. It felt like we were integrating with the whole picture of us being here, foreigners in this blessed land of ‘milk and honey’.
Every day since the first of July you wander over the passerella to the Villa Fiori gardens and you hear the musical tapping of metal on stone. The sculpture symposium, one of the many wonderful events of the Bagni di Lucca Art Festival, has seen the works of five sculptors evolving and ‘becoming’ over the month; Doug Robinson, Sarah Danays, Ryoichi Suzuki, Petra Boshart and Michael Cartwright. Visitors to the gardens have been delighted by the progress and information on how each artist develops their language, using only hand tools on various types of marble, statuario and normale from Carrara, red travertine from Iran, nut brown from Turkey.
Every day the local people have provided lunch for the artists in their homes. It has been an enormous discovery for the hosts and the artists alike to see how the other lives life. There have been lunches in tiny kitchens and under vines with magnificent vistas, every lunch generous and fundamentally Italian, with pasta and wine and home done olives, good vegetables from the fields and heavy rustic breads and cheeses.
The kindness of Hotel Pio in Bagni Caldi, donating rooms to three of the artists for the full month along with the Bridge Hotel in Ponte a Serraglio hosting Doug, has been a huge act and earns them the name of the ‘art hotels’ and maybe next year with funding they will be well recompensed.
Doug Robinson is a Canadian sculptor who has been coming to Pietrasanta for the past thirty years to carve marble. He has been a wonderful joy in the party, his enthusiasm for the whole culture of Bagni di Lucca with all its hilltop villages, his eyes turning into childlike buttons of wonder have made us laugh and enjoy being here even more. He has been working in the brown travertine and his work, organic, figurative, animistic and landscape, all, are a beautiful testament to his surroundings that he has eagerly absorbed.
Sarah Danays, a UK artist living and creating in L.A. and renovating a house in a little hilltop village here in Bagni, is a petite and gentle woman. She has carved the smallest piece of marble to carefully and delicately create a bust to wear the adornment of an antique necklet which will then be melded into her own artistic expression of a photographic installation. Her lovely kind presence, always caring about us all and deeply concerned for her sponsors that they are properly acknowledged, has been significant to the warmth and friendship of the group.
Ryoichi Suzuki is a Japanese artist who has lived since his student days in Utah, USA, where he now lectures as a teacher in sculpture at the university. He has been used, as a marble sculptor, to the machines of the trade so has encountered a learning curve with the hand chiseling as has nearly everyone in the group. His process has been very methodical and at the end of his stay here he has created an abstracted silken torso in the white Carrara marble. People in town have loved his open interest in them and enjoyed his jovial company in the bar.
Petra Boshart, an artist from the Netherlands, comes from a long respected family line of marble carvers. She has willingly shared lots of tips from her memories of her grandfather and father and has delighted in the hand carving process which has eliminated lots of the aches that sculptors acquire from constant use of machines when carving. Carving on the edge of the Lima River inspired her sculpture in the Iranian red travertine, an organic coil of rolling form reflecting the flow of water.
Michael Cartwright, has loved being in the field every day creating. Life has been incredibly busy, because living in the same place you are working in, means many distractions, including hosting his sculpting friends every evening after work. But Mike’s energy is huge and he attacked his cube of stone with velocity before it took its shape into an abstract quirky bird form with what he calls the nest. People walking in the gardens each day got to know it and delight in it which was lovely for him because it usually takes a while for people to know his work. He is working on his second piece now, a promise of a gentle fluid form that feels womanly.
The artists will be showing their work on May 26th, when hopefully the road in Ponte a Serraglio will be closed again and all the shops reopened with the next exhibitions.